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Digital Education team blog


Ideas and reflections from UCL's Digital Education team


Amsterdam University Library learning spaces visit 28th January 2013

By Paul Burt, on 4 February 2013

Whist arranging our visit to the ISE exhibition in Amsterdam I thought it would be good to maximise the value of the trip by seeing if there were any interesting learning spaces within institutions in the region. A bit of web searching revealed images of the striking redevelopment of the University of Amsterdam’s main library. A few emails and weeks later we were fortunate to be receiving a tour and in-depth discussion with the University’s Head of User Services, Robin van Schijndel.
The library is situated in the heart of Amsterdam and is actually made up of a number of neighbouring buildings which range in dates from the 16th century (we were shown a cellar room where there was a large reproduction of Dutch Masters painting which was clearly a view from the same room) to the 1970’s. The interiors that had caught my attention on the web were now three years old but still looked immaculate. I suspect this is as a result of admirable cultural differences (there is next to no litter on the streets of Amsterdam) as much as it is the result of good choice of materials.
The most distinctive space that was part of that phase of refurbishment is the book collection room.
view of book collection room at Amsterdam University library
Like many space-constrained libraries much of the available stock is stored off-site and be accessed by student and staff by searching the online catalogue and requesting items. How this process works and the way a user collects their requested items is made clear for new students and staff by clean signage above the relevant issue stations.
The workstation where users check if their books are available
Once a user is notified by email that their items are available then they collect them from a numbered box.
What could have been conceived of a fairly drab collection room has been made into the symbolic heart of the building complete with the glow of red fluorescents (others have noted the other symbolic meaning of red lights in the city). Originally the architect had planned for individual cabinets with hinged doors but budget constraints meant a more economic solution was needed and the red plastic crates (usually factory parts bins) decided upon. The end result is probably all the stronger for this decision.
Throughout the rest of the building there were numerous study areas that were all very busy with very quiet and very studious students.
One of the most recent library developments is the recently created a group/social learning space. There is a range of furniture in this space from high-backed benches that afford a degree of privacy to open desks and benches.
high-backed seating at Amsterdam University
Amsterdam University Library social learning space
The rules for students in this space are indicated by signage (designed by a student).
Some of the meaning required a bit of explanation for me (apparently – yes to talking, yes to mobile devices, no to fast food and ensure drinks have lids) but slightly more cool than most library signage.

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